Since Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization passed, reproductive rights have been more restricted than ever. But, since people will find a way, especially thanks to the availability of medical abortion (the abortion pill), many may be wondering: Is it safe to use cannabis for pain relief after an abortion? Spoiler alert: For people in conservative states, finding access to safe abortion is a lot more difficult than finding good, analgesic, high-THC weed, which, yes, could safely help manage pain after taking the pill (mifepristone and misoprostol) or undergoing an abortive procedure.
Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which passed by a vote of 6–3 on June 24, 2022, overturned both Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), thus returning to the power to regulate abortion laws to states, and removing the national safety net of the right to privacy. Pro-choice Americans recoiled in shock (and pro-choice stoners reached for some cannabis to calm their panic attacks) when conservative Justice Alito’s opinion, which correctly foreshadowed their decision, leaked in May of the same year. However, we were wrong to be surprised. As this author can attest, after digging into decades of research on the matter, the anti-choice crowd has been planning this since Roe first passed in 1973, and, to be frank, many people got lazy and comfortable, especially during the Obama years. After Trump, who doesn’t care about abortion unless it’s to win religious voters, finally successfully stacked the Supreme Court in the anti-choice crowd’s favor, and the crafty legislation made its way in front of them, it was a cacophonous wakeup call.
As of June 2023, according to The New York Times, 14 states, such as South Dakota and Texas, now ban most abortions, except in rare cases that endanger the mother’s life. Georgia also bans abortion at about six weeks of pregnancy (before most people even realize they are pregnant). As other states battle it out in courtrooms, the number of states that virtually ban all abortions will likely increase, and the 2024 election will be one for the history books. Notice how lack of abortion access is predominant in regions where a significant proportion of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color live, who are already let down by our medical system and disproportionately more likely to need abortion care.
However, according to American Progress, as of July 2022, 21 states, such as California, New York, and Washington, D.C., have protections in place for abortion. As a result, people must travel out of state or get and take the abortion pill by mail. As Planned Parenthood instructs, typically, medical abortion works by taking two drugs. The first, mifepristone, blocks the hormone progesterone, which stops the pregnancy from further developing. Then, the second pill, misoprostol, is taken up to 48 hours later and causes cramping and bleeding that empties the uterus. This process lasts between five to 24 hours. Currently, over half of U.S. abortions are performed using pills, and yes, this process, while akin to menstrual cramps for some, can be frightening, messy, and downright excruciating for others. Yet currently, the standard pain relief direction for medical abortion patients is over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and anyone who has tried these just for period cramps or a headache knows their limitations.
Rather than seek out opiates, cannabis can offer safe and managed pain and anxiety relief for those taking the pills. Most research supporting using cannabis for pain is limited to medical abortions. “As for surgical abortions, there is very little research into the use of cannabis and post-surgical abortion pain,” Dr. Lewis Jassey, medical director at Leafwell, tells High Times. “Regarding post-surgical pain, generally, cannabis users may face more severe pain and nausea and may need additional medications such as opioids.”
While post-medical abortion cannabis use for pain relief needs more research, some studies show positive results. A 2020 study, which enrolled 51 participants (16 cannabis users and 35 non-cannabis users) at a University-affiliated abortion clinic in Denver, found that 13 of the 16 (81%) patients correlated cannabis use with a reduction in pain, seven (44%) with anxiety reduction, and six (38%) with nausea and vomiting (oh yeah, that’s another side effect) improvement. They found no significant difference when comparing cannabis users to non-users.
Another 2016 study that enrolled 384 women in states with legal cannabis found that “a sizable proportion of women in states with progressive marijuana policies use marijuana during a first-trimester medical abortion and find it helpful in managing pain.”
While these results are promising, keep in mind: “These studies focus on pain during an abortion, so the benefits of medical cannabis as a pain reliever post-abortion are less clear,” Dr. Jassey says. “The studies suggest that medical cannabis could be helpful for pain, anxiety, and nausea relief post-use of misoprostol or mifepristone. However, the results of these studies are inconclusive, and further research is needed.”
When speaking to people who have had a medical abortion, in this reporter’s experience, most say that the discomfort was far worse than expected. If you’re confused as to why one is supposed to get through it with Motrin or Advil alone, keep in mind that for a long time, women were expected to be in pain during birth, thanks to the Bible passage Genesis 3:16, in which Eve is punished for eating from the Tree of Knowledge, which reads: “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” Getting an abortion is now hard enough; expecting sympathy regarding pain relief for a highly stigmatized medical procedure is even more challenging.
Yet, while more activism is always needed (and don’t forget to vote), if you, or someone you love, is pregnant and doesn’t want to be, or can’t be, don’t panic. Click here to read more information from Planned Parenthood about how to safely get the abortion pill delivered to you, and go ahead and call your guy or head to your local dispensary, knowing that, once again, Mary Jane has your back even when the lawmakers don’t.